Language & Lingusitics
These are posts about language & linguistics and philology. Indo-European languages are much more common than any other language group in terms of my interests and posts.The actual languages might be English, Old English, Middle English, Old Norse, Medieval Welsh, Modern Welsh, Old Irish, Middle Irish or even Modern Irish. Sometimes I drag in French, too. It’s hard for me to use words without thinking about their etymology, so language & linguistics creep in to otherwise unrelated posts.
As we move along the paths of technology and human invention, our skill sets and our language change along with our manner of life. But because so much of language, especially idiom, is built upon metaphor, as we lose understanding of past ways of living, those metaphors die, and become complicated literary allusions. Take, for instance “dyed-on-the-wool,” which Ngaio Marsh used in a punning title of her mystery novel, Died in the Wool. The idiom really is “dyed,” and dyed-in-the-wool means, according to the AHD, “Thoroughgoing; out-and-out: a dyed-in-the-wool populist.” You usually see the idiom used in a political context, as in “Kennedy was a dyed in the wool Democrat.”…
Easter n. 1. A Christian feast commemorating the Resurrection of Jesus. 2. The day on which this feast is observed, the first Sunday following the full moon that occurs on or next after March 21. 3. Eastertide. Rabbit on a pillar; entrance to St. Michael’s chapel from St. Mary’s, Beverley, Yorkshire c. 1330 That seems straightforward enough. It gets a little less straightforward when we start looking at the etymology behind the word Easter. This much we are reasonably sure of; Easter is derived from Middle English ester, itself derived from Old English ēastre. There’s a very clear Proto Indo-European root there; *aus-, “to shine.” Derivatives of *-aus included east, Easter, and Aurora,…
The Language of Baseball and English Idiom
Dodger Stadium, August 13, 2011 Credit: Adam_sk Foolish me; I had been planning for some time to welcome the Springtime return of major league baseball with a bit about the ways the language of baseball in the form of baseball idioms has crept into ordinary American English. I’m far too late to the pitch. There’s a wikipedia article already. Even the OED got to first base before me. There are books about the language of baseball; Ryan Gray’s The Language of Baseball: A Complete Dictionary of Slang Terms, Cliches, and Expressions From The Grand Ole Game. And there’s a book (and a website) by Paul Dickson about the signs used…
According to the official U.S. Senate Glossary a filibuster is an Informal term for any attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actions. According to the AHD, a filibuster: a. The obstructing or delaying of legislative action, especially by prolonged speechmaking. b. An instance of this, especially a prolonged speech. An adventurer who engages in a private military action in a foreign country. Etymologically the English word filibuster derives from Dutch vrijbuiter, “pirate” via Spanish filibustero, or “freebooter”; the Spanish borrowed the word from French flibustier, who…
Corned Beef and Corning
The corn in the phrase corned beef refers to salt-curing, or brining beef to preserve it. The corn refers to the large grains of salt used in curing the beef. The meat is placed in a crock and liberally covered with large grains (or corns) of salt. Etymologically, the English word corn comes from the Germanic root kurnam, used to refer to small seeds or kernals, cognate with kernal and with Latin grain. Corned beef, traditionally made with a brisket of beef in Eastern European and Jewish traditions, is fairly simple to do at home. Here’s a recipe from Alton Brown for making your own corned beef.
There’s universal agreement today that a penguin is: Any of various stout, flightless aquatic birds of the family Spheniscidae, of the Southern Hemisphere, having flipperlike wings and webbed feet adapted for swimming and diving, short scalelike feathers, and white underparts with a dark back (AHD). It’s possible that penguin is of Welsh origin; it breaks down very neatly into pen + gwen/gwyn, with pen meaning “head,” and gwen meaning “white,” (and there are species of penguin with white heads). However, the etymology isn’t at all certain. The OED offers two early quotations in context: 1577 F. FLETCHER Log of ‘Golden Hind’ 24 Aug. in N. M. Penzer World Encompassed (1971)…
Flotsam and Jetsam
flotsam n. Goods floating on the surface of a body of water after a shipwreck or after being cast overboard to lighten the ship. Discarded or unimportant things: “Keyrings, bookmarks … gum, scissors, paper clips … pencils and pads stolen from various hotels: all this detritus, this flotsam of a life being lived at full throttle” (David Leavitt). People who are considered to be worthless or to have been rejected by society. flotsam AHD jetsam n. Goods that are cast overboard from a ship, especially in an attempt to lighten the ship, and that sink to the bottom of a body of water. Discarded odds and ends. AHD jetsam …
There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it: a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head. “Very uncomfortable for the Dormouse,” thought Alice; ”only, as it’s asleep, I suppose it doesn’t mind.” —Lewis Carroll. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Chapter VII. A Mad Tea-Party. Technically, the dormouse is a small omnivorous rodent, a native of Eurasia and Africa, of the family the family Gliridae. The dormouse featured in Lewis Caroll’s The Adventures…
The standard dictionary definition for February is very like this one from the AHD: The second month of the year in the Gregorian calendar. Modern English February is ultimately derived from Latin; the Latin name for the second month, the name used by Romans, is februarius mensis, “purification month,” or, more literally, “month of purification,” the last month of the ancient (pre-450 B.C.E.) Roman calendar. The month was named after the Roman feast of purification, held on the ides of the month, with the new year starting in the following month. The etymology of February is a little complicated, in that Modern English February is derived from Latin Februarius,…
In the post about aglets, I mentioned that according to the OED, in earlier eras, aglets were called points. According to the AHD, under definition 35 for point, a point is “A ribbon or cord with a metal tag at the end, used to fasten clothing in the 16th and 17th centuries.” The following bit from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Act 1, scene 5, between Feste the Jester or “clown,” and the maid Maria, refers to points. Feste has returned, late, long after he was expected: Maria Yet you will be hanged for being so long absent; or, to be turned away, is not that as good as a hanging to…